TCM Remembers, YouTube

The Editor’s Desk: They can’t take that away

The passing of beloved actress Betty White was a blow, but she left many happy memories

Like a Hollywood bad guy who, having beaten his victim to a pulp, administers a final kick to the ribs for good measure, 2021 just had to have one last kick on its way out the door.

I refer to the news on Dec. 31 that actress, comedian, animal rights campaigner, and all-round wonderful person Betty White had passed away, just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday. Listing all her accomplishments, honours, and ground-breaking achievements would take up the rest of this column. Suffice it to say that over her eight-decade career she forgot more about comedy than most performers ever learn, lit up whatever screen she appeared on, and seems to have been a gracious, friendly, and kind person about whom no one had a bad word to say.

News of her death was one last bit of salt on the wound to cap off a year that most people would probably rather forget, but which (to be fair) started well. The COVID-19 vaccine arrived, and there was some relief in sight from the restrictions and regulations, which was due to start on July 1. After more than a year of cancelled and postponed events large and small, it looked as if life would start to get back to something like normal.

The heat dome at the end of June, which saw record-shattering temperatures around the province, had broken by June 30. Between that and less restrictive COVID measures on the horizon, things were looking up for a few brief and shining hours. Then, late on the afternoon of June 30, came news of what was happening in Lytton, and 2021 took an abrupt detour that seemed to lead straight to a cliff, off which the year promptly fell.

Amid so much devastation and anguish, so many lives upended, and countless tragedies, a lot of people clung to whatever happiness or joy or delight they could find, and for several generations of TV viewers Betty White was a source of that. Sadly, she joins three fellow castmates of The Mary Tyler Moore Show — Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, and Gavin McLeod — who also passed away in 2021. They are among the dozens of people commemorated in Turner Classic Movies’ annual “TCM Remembers” feature, a look back at the film actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, and more who left us in a given year.

It’s always a bittersweet thing to watch. “The cinema is truth 24 frames per-second,” said French director Jean Luc Godard. Movies can be pure escapism, but they all show us life as it is, or was, or could be, offering a window to other people and places and times but still resonating with us on some level. There are always a few people in TCM’s annual tribute whose work I’m not overly familiar with, but most of them spark some memory or memories of films watched and enjoyed over the years, moments spent enthralled by visions of worlds and people far different (in most cases) to the ones I know, but recognizable all the same. As Agatha Christie wisely noted — most notably in her Miss Marple tales — people are fundamentally the same, no matter where they come from or live.

Movies (and television shows) take us to these people and their worlds, and it’s thus no surprise that we can come to feel as if we know the people we see on screen. This is particularly true of television shows: when you see the same people in your living room every week, you begin to feel that they’re almost part of the family. Betty White had the talent and good fortune to star in two enduringly popular comedy shows — Mary Tyler Moore and Golden Girls — which ensure that she will continue to be known and loved by many for years to come.

So nice try, 2021, but you lose. Betty White is gone but not forgotten, and lives on in the memories of many, all of whom will have a smile on their face as they remember her. Like the old song says, they can’t take that away from me.

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